Title: Pask and DE Zeeuw’s Encounters at Amesterdam
[Excerpt of paper by Gonçalo Furtado - Universidade do Porto]
Abstract: "In the 1980s, pre-eminent British cybernetician Gordon Pask became involved in Professor Gerard de Zeeuw’s Dutch programme ‘Support, Survival and Culture’. In the early 1990s, their Interaction of Actors Theory ultimately evolved from the better-known Conversation Theory in response to the requirements for social action. These text merely outline a series of aspects related with that occurrence."
"In 1980 pre-eminent cybernetician Gordon Pask had left his long-held post as director of research of System Research Ltd. In the 1980s he became involved in the Dutch programme ‘Support, Survival and Culture’ which focused on social issues such as adult education and social-support systems. The program was led by the Dean of the Faculty of Andragology of the University of Amsterdam – Professor Gerard de Zeeuw – and it was his largest, funded by the Ministry of Education of the Netherlands. So called Androgology deals with the study of human action; and Pask personally dealt with social cybernetics, inter-personal and intro-personal interactions of actors, frequently through machines.
It was in this context that, together with Gerard de Zeeuw, Pask developed Interaction of Actors Theory (I.A.). A large draft, probably for a book titled Interaction of Actors, Theory and Some Applications, was dated 1992. I.A. was a play on words inverting the polemic term A.I., and in a letter to colleagues Pask clearly stated that: ‘In sharp contrast to the artificial intelligence often dubbed A.I., I have formulated a novel theory [...] as an[...] extension of my previous developed thought, still and always evolving, Conversation Theory [...].’ [Pask, untitled notes, ca.1990] In Pask’s words, Conversation Theory “[...] led to the “dynamical representation of concepts of participants and differences between participants, engaged in interpersonal or intrapersonal interaction often through computing machines. It soon became evident that, upon embarking upon studies of social support systems, at the [...] University of Amsterdam, considerable extension of the theories in question was needed, those Prof. Dr. de Zeeuw and I titled ‘Interaction of Actors’ or for brevity ‘I.A. theory’. They deal […] with mind creativity, thought, action, interaction and conversation.” [Pask, untitled notes, 1992] If, while developing C.T., he had identified conditions for sharing concepts, with I.A. he thus continued to develop an account of the conversational process while emphasizing a dynamic, creative, multiple interaction.
In this respect, some articles by authors close to Pask, namely by the I.A.’s co-author De Zeeuw, […] are helpful sources for immersion in this complex and later unfinished endeavour.
De Zeeuw's 2001 paper ‘Interaction of Actors Theory’ (published in Kybernetes N.7-8 edited by Glanville and Scott, and available at www.cict.demon.co.uk/interaction01.pdf), in turn, is extremely helpful in clarifying the theory’s intrinsic meaning for scientific research; being composed of several parts and containing references to the book’s draft manuscript. The first part consists of an introduction, and the second describes the ‘problem’ including an allusion to a redesign of science which acknowledges the user in the observational process. The third part explains the basis of I.A., and it indicates C.T.’s and I.A.’s common intention ‘[…] to include the ‘user’ in the process of research […]’; Pask distinguished between P and M individuals, and stated that, in I.A., P-individuals ‘[…] become part of a collective P-individual, which coordinates the actions of the M-individuals and is determined in conversation’. [De Zeeuw, 2001] The fourth part relates to the formulation of a research programme and discusses some of its consequences. To a large extent, I.A., as a ‘theory for research’ and ‘for the study of interactions’, extended the potentiality of science’s performance. The fifth, evaluating some examples, is followed by a conclusion which mentions that while advancing the development of I.A., Pask intended to deal with the difficulty of ‘improving on values’. [De Zeeuw, 2001] Zeeuw’s paper clarifies the meaning of I.A. and, in his words: ‘[…] how this theory intended to minimize the effects of use on scientific results, while maximizing the help of such results to improve on actions. This would facilitate empirical study of what changes user values, as well as the preferred design of (computer supported) support systems. Results include the material and communicative support of and collective and social activities.’ [De Zeeuw, 2001]]
By developing Interaction of Actors Theory, Pask answered for requirements of social intervention and the reality of multiple, simultaneous conversations. And at this point, one could say that to a certain extent Pask’s role in platforms like Amsterdam acknowledged the wide (civilizational) potential of his thought.
The last words goes to Professor De Zeeuw - the co-author of Interaction Theory – to emphasize what he pointed out to me in an impressive way: “Gordon wasn´t interested in (a discipline of) interactions. He was interested in (helping to) identify what knowledge is needed for people to change their actions (and behaviour), and hence what knowledge is needed to ‘improve on values’. Simply identifying interventions would lean much more on the control paradigm than was Gordon’s intention. He was well aware of the difficulty of acquiring knowledge that in its use would not ‘flatten’ individuals, and would ‘increase possibilities’ as Von Foerster would say.” [De Zeeuw, 2008]
Facing our contemporary Global World, an Interaction of Actors seems more important than ever."